The story of Christ’s birth has been told and retold so many times it could have lost its luster generations ago. But it hasn’t—not even close. If anything, in this world of war, famine and natural disasters, holding on to something as simple and as singularly important as the Nativity story is a necessity to our faith.
And perhaps nowhere on earth is the Nativity story told with more flourish and faith-based exuberance than in the annual celebration of Las Posadas, a tradition held throughout Mexico and Guatemala.
A holy history lesson: The roots of Las Posadas stretch deeply into Latin culture. It originated in Spain, but it’s been a yearly celebration throughout Mexico for over 400 years. The tradition commemorates Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a warm place to stay the night. (Posadas is Spanish for “lodgings” or “accommodations.”)
Beginning on December 16 and ending nine days later, on December 24, Las Posadas commemorates the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night, one family agrees to house the pilgrims. And so it begins: At dusk, a procession of the faithful takes to the streets with children often dressed as angels and shepherds. Religious figures, images and lighted candles are a part of the festivities.
The group representing the Holy Family stands outside a series of houses, singing songs, asking for lodging. They are refused time and again until the group reaches the designated house. Finally, the travelers are permitted to enter. Prayer and song continue in the home, and festive foods are shared. The evening ends with a piñata in the shape of star.
The tradition continues each evening with a different house as the chosen Posadas. The last night—Christmas Eve—usually features a midnight Mass. The nine days of Las Posadas is more than just a feel-good tradition: It deepens faith and strengthens ties within the community at a holy time.
Just as Mary and Joseph faced the cold weather—and even colder innkeepers that night—participants brave the elements in bringing their love for the Christ Child to their streets. Las Posadas isn’t about being somber and still during Christmas: It’s about pilgrims and a pilgrimage, rousing song, prayer and deep faith—all of it in motion.
Photo by David Maung.
This article first appeared in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger.